How to Help Your Child Be a Successful Student

Krista Anderson-Hill, Senior Parent Correspondent

August 19, 2019

It is hard to believe that summer is winding down and our children will soon be out the door and off to school.  Amidst the fun of shopping for school supplies, mapping out routines and squeezing in the last bit of summer, it is helpful to spend some time thinking about how you can help your child succeed this year. Some of these strategies are straightforward and simple, but they are can make a BIG impact and are often overlooked.

1. Get and Stay Involved

 Over and over, research reveals that children do better when parents are connected to and involved in their child’s academic lives.  This does not mean that you need to be school volunteer of the year or know every detail of your child’s school day; there can be too much of a good thing.  Healthy involvement looks like the following:

Attend Back to School Night and parent teacher conferences: Attending these events allows you the opportunity to get to know your child’s teacher, classroom expectations, school resources, learn how your child is doing, and explore strategies to support your child at home.  It is just as important to attend these events as you child gets older.  Teachers in middle school and high school highly encourage parents to attend these events and take note of who attends.  

Make attending school events a family priority: Go to school events like the book fair or family movie night, attend concerts and athletic events.  These efforts show your child that you value school and care about the school community. 

 Volunteer: Schools are a wealth of volunteer opportunities and you do not need to be a stay at home parent to participate.  There is a perfect volunteer fit for every parent and every schedule.  Some of those opportunities include:  joining the PTA, going on field trips, helping in the library, being a classroom or office volunteer, decorating teacher classrooms, hanging art, serving on an athletic or band booster club, doing cut and paste projects for teachers at home.  Check out the school’s website for volunteer opportunities or ask your child’s teacher.

 2. Take Attendance Seriously

 Sick children should absolutely stay home. But planning vacations and events that cause your child to miss more than a day or two of school can have a negative impact, especially as your child gets older. As a parent this is hard; much of the world does not revolve around the school calendar.  Flights are cheaper during the week, vacations are less expensive during off times and family time is important.  But there needs to be balance and consideration for your child.  Having to catch up on missed classwork and homework can be stressful and can interfere with learning. And, when a child misses school, it also impacts the teacher.  Teachers need to set aside assignments, tests and time to help a child catch up.

 3. Help Your Child Learn Organizational Skills

 When children big or small are organized, they can spend more of their time and energy on school work vs. hunting down lost assignments, looking for supplies and getting side tracked.  In elementary school, help your child go through his or her take tome folder, sorting papers that need to stay home, those that need to be signed and homework that needs to be completed. After doing it together for the first month or so, encourage your child to do it on their own. 

 Establish a routine for after school and before school.  For example, after school:

– Unpack lunch box

– Unpack backpack

– Sort through take home folder

– Snack

– Homework

– Pack Backpack for next day

 Also, dedicating a homework space that is quiet, comfortable and stocked with needed supplies (pencils, markers, glue) models organizing your physical space for productive work.

Go to school events like the book fair or family movie night, attend concerts and athletic events. These efforts show your child that you value school and care about the school community.

4. Send Your Child to School Ready to Learn

We are talking about good quality nutrition and sleep here.  This may seem obvious, but I have been in classrooms from the most underserved children to the most wealthy communities and across the board I have seen tired and hungry children.  It is so hard to learn if your are hungry and tired. Good sleep and nutrition boost a child’s attention span, improves memory, concentration and stamina.  Spend some time thinking of breakfast, lunches and snacks that are fast, easy and contain a protein and a carbohydrate.  Some things as simple as a frozen waffle with nut butter and cheese stick will give your child a huge advantage in learning that day.  In addition to providing the right kind of food, making sleep a priority is essential to success.  Depending on the age, children need between 10 to 12 hours of sleep, even big kids.  Having a consistent bedtime and bedtime routine can help achieve this sleep goal.

5.  Teach Children That It is Important to Ask For Help When Needed

Asking for help is often a challenge whether you are a child or a grown adult.  But the practice of recognizing when you need help and knowing how to find help, is a lifelong skill for success.  Early on, if your child is struggling with a homework assignment, try to resist the urge to help them.  Instead, work with your child to formulate a plan to get help from his or her teacher. Role play when and how to tell the teacher that he or she does not understand the assignment or is stuck.  Getting in the habit of asking for help and  experiencing positive outcomes, will go a long way when your child is older.  There will come a time when you will not be able to help with homework, and a child who has practiced asking for help will feel confident and comfortable doing so. 

6. Make Time Each Day to Talk About School

Some children love to talk a mile a minute about their school day as soon as they walk in the door, others need time to chill and relax and want to talk about their day at bedtime.  Find a consistent time and routine that works with your child’s own rhythm to touch base about their school day.  In my house, we do Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down or Thorns and Roses, at the dinner table.  We go around, parents included, and say one positive (thumb up/rose) that happened and one challenge (thumb down/thorn).  Taking time and establishing a routine to talk about your child’s day, shows that you care, that you value school and that their experiences are important to you.

7. Allow Your Child to Fail

This last strategy is really one of the most important lessons you can learn as a parent; failure and mistakes lead to success.  This is so much easier said than done, but it critical to a child’s success.  Failure can come in the form of forgetting a homework assignment or actually failing a test.  What is critical is how we coach our children to respond to failure; failure is an opportunity to pick ourselves up, receive feedback and learn how to do better next time. Allowing children to fail, helps them learn to deal with disappointment, become effective problem solvers (how to fix it or do better) and promotes risk taking (not being paralyzed to be wrong) At home and at school we really need to give children permission to be wrong and make mistakes and reframe failure as a learning experience not a negative end.  Many, many highly successful adults say that past failures and mistakes taught them how to be better and do better in life, business and higher education.